Lester Bangs. It says on the cover, rather cheekily, that
he’s the star of Almost
Famous. In a way he is I suppose. If you’ve not seen the
film (and you should) Lester Bangs is the journalist that
gives the kid his first break. This is one of my favourite
films, about one of my favourite subjects (music) and set in
one of my favourite periods (late sixties, early seventies).
In it the character of Lester Bangs is used to epitomise the
times. His vicious, cynical treatment of the rock and roll
inudustry of the time is what grounds the film. Rather
embarrassingly I didn’t know he was real, so it was a bit of
a shock to find a book written by him… It’s a posthumous
collection of pieces, stretching from Velvet Underground and
The Stooges all the way through to The Troggs, The Stones and
any other act of the time that you may care to mention.
This is one of those books that actually makes you call
into question your own activities. This guy could really
write – the vitriolic outpourings and wild flights of fancy
that mesh so tightly with words that so clearly show his love
for the music about which he was writing make you (me) doubt
whether it’s actually worth me reviewing anything else. Sure
I can tell you that I like a thing, but to produce a piece of
the elegance, power and beauty of (say) his review of Van the
Man’s Astral Weeks
is, I’m afraid to say, beyond me.
While Hunter S Thompson was writing about sports and
politics, while Tom Wolfe was writing about art and while PJ
O’Rourke was writing about, well, whatever, Lester Bangs was
writing about Rock and Roll. This is a guy who saw The Who,
who saw Jefferson Airplane, who saw Creedence, The Stones,
The Beatles. In the introduction to the book Marcus Greil
(a friend of Lester’s who compiled the book) says that this
isn’t a compilation of his rock and roll reviews, more a book
that showed how Lester Bangs felt about life. He’s right – in
this book Lester manages to have an opinion about every band
you’ve ever heard of and a million you haven’t, but more
importantly he waxes lyrical about the very nature people,
life, things, and of course rock and roll. Greil goes on to
say that people can’t believe that one of America’s most
important writers was only writing record reviews. Well yeah,
they are record reviews, but then Hunter was ostensibly
writing about politics, wasn’t he..?
I’ve fallen in love with this book, and with the notion of
who Lester Bangs was. I’ve always thought that I was born 30
years too late and this book (along with the Woodstock
and Loathing, Electric
Kool Aid Acid Test and Bless
Its Pointed Little Head) serves as a stark reminder that I was.
So much of what he was to say about the record industry, about
superstardom and about the raw facts of the great rock and
roll party still rings true today.
Lester, I salute you, and I salute your vision. Read this,
and find out why music just isn’t as good anymore.